Racing to Justice and Building the Beloved Community

This year, I have read a handful of extraordinary books on race: Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (which I will profile soon), and, most recently, john a. powell's Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. The three authors, all attorneys, write at length about the criminal justice system and the courts. As well, all three authors tell a story with the power to upend a comfortable world-view.

With a shelf full of publications and a 32-page curriculum vitae, john a. powell (spelled without capitals) is a scholar in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties and a host of issues including race, structural racism, ethnicity, housing, poverty, and democracy. He is the Executive Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to dual appointments as Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC - Berkeley, Professor powell holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion.

Photo courtesy of john a. powell
I first encountered Professor powell when he came to South Bend as part of a lecture series in preparation for the City Plan. My recent reading had numerous citations of his work, so I ordered Racing to Justice to dig in a bit deeper with his thought. Professor powell's work did not disappoint. He left me mulling many things over. Elements of my thought have been upended. Professor powell has helped me see some things anew, and he has left me with unfinished work that I must pursue.

This book helps me to see more clearly why Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, both Democratic presidential candidates, misunderstood "Black Lives Matter" protesters at the Netroots Nations conference in Phoenix, how FOX News reacted, and what the protesters were trying to say in the first place. Professor powell also suggests a new way forward.

The book left me pondering data from the Pew Religious Landscape Study for 2014 that shows Catholicism to be among the more racially diverse religious communities in the U.S., comparable to U.S. adults overall – largely because of sizable Hispanic minorities, but, upon reflection, Catholic diversity may simply be a mirage. As Martin Luther King, Jr. at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. days before he was killed: "We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America." More than 40 years later, it sadly remains true.

The book asks me to understand my personal narrative in new ways. For example, it is in my DNA that access to quality education is the primary factor in social mobility. My family has generations of teachers, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt, my Dad, my mother, my siblings, and I have all spent time in the classroom instructing students. Central to my family's story is how my paternal grandfather from French Lick, Indiana, took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the G.I. Bill to become the first on his side of my family to complete not only undergraduate studies but law school as well. Subsequently, he spent 24 years on the bench as a circuit judge. My father earned a Ph.D. Between my four siblings and I, we have ten university degrees. The G.I. Bill changed the trajectory of my family. In this we are not alone.

While the G.I. Bill and educational programs from the Veterans Administration  were tremendously effective at certain aims, as my family can attest, Professor powell calls attention to other outcomes:

These educational programs were race- and gender-neutral in design, yet in practice they increased disparities between blacks and whites and between white men and white women. In fact, no other single instrument did as much to widen the racial gap in postwar America. (p. 14)

Given that the program was for veterans, it favored men without explicit intention to exclude women, as they were less likely to be veterans. While the gaps were less than those of gender, the program disproportionately benefited white men relative to non-white men (p. 15). Similarly, other programs like the Social Security Act and the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 exacerbated disparities. His point is not to disparage these programs as to propose that we seek "targeted universalism," that we hold the process and its outcomes as equally important in the evaluation of a program.

The book's title, Racing to Justice, derives its name from Professor powell's claim that race is a verb prior to a noun (p. 53). Race is a social construct, not biological. Since race is not a biological concept, we have categorized others, we have "raced" them, prior to race actually existing. He addresses white privilege and the racialized self. Professor powell dives deeply into political, legal, social, philosophical, and psychological issues around identity and race, as well as, in the final chapter, spirituality and social justice.

Frankly, as one trained in theology, the final chapter on suffering, spirituality, and social justice was the least satisfying. I am pleased that he took up the theme. He covered a lot of ground, world religions rather than a strictly Christian or monotheistic view. In the area of theology and spirituality, he teased me with certain words that could have, within Catholic theology, been drawn in some enticing directions, but I came away from that chapter dissatisfied. In a broader sense, I came away from the book dissatisfied, in that discomforting sense that what he said was true. I guess it means that I have some work to do. I suppose that we all do.

The Light of the Heart's Desire: The Dark Light of Love

Written prior to his death on November 11, 2013, Dark Light of Love was the 23rd book by Fr. John S. Dunne, C.S.C. Personally, Fr. Dunne was a teacher, a mentor, a spiritual guide, and a friend. (See also my post: Journey of the Heart's Desire: The Heart Comes Home.) When I returned from Chile, amid great personal distress, to begin a time of healing and a search for my next steps, this book was one of a handful that accompanied me. Reading the work brought Fr. Dunne's voice back to me, and I appreciated him accompanying me, through this work, amid a difficult period.

John, to be less formal, wrote his books a paragraph a day. Each morning, he would write one paragraph and the first sentence of the next paragraph. His prayer and heartfelt reflection would lead him the next morning to write the subsequent paragraph and first sentence. I lived with him two summers as he wrote. Like clockwork, he would take a sabbatical to write every fourth year, even if he did not need it to finish the book. It was his way to refresh and renew himself. This work revisits themes that I have heard from him many times, themes "ever ancient, ever new," to borrow from St. Augustine, that, at the same time, break new ground.

Written slowly, deliberately, this book is best read gradually, digesting the paragraphs, images, and concepts contemplatively. Every page, amid, citations from Kant, Rilke, Aquinas, Pascal, Tolkein, and Kierkegaard, the reader finds a phrase worth lingering:
Faith is seeing light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness. (p. 5)
The test of loneliness reveals the human heart. (p. 34)
In the kindling of the heart our loneliness becomes love, and in the illumining of the mind we come to consciousness of the eternal in us. (p. 56)
It is living as if everything that belongs to our life shall enter into it and everything that enters into our life belongs to it. (p. 73)
Fr. John S. Dunne, C.S.C.
To go from facing oneself to being with oneself is to make friends with oneself and become gentle in disappointment. Hegel's phenomenology culminates in self facing itself, and this he considers absolute knowledge. Yet if we make friends with ourselves we come to realize we are a mystery to ourselves, unable to leap over our own shadow. (p. 23)
This last image of leaping over one's own shadow, in class, Fr. Dunne would illustrate, with vigorous movement, the futility of the effort. In the work, well-established themes re-emerge, like the heart's desire, as opposed to René Girard's mimetic desire, which Dunne answers with Dante: la sua voluntate e nostra pace (His will is our peace) (pp. 30-31). While all of his works build on one another, Fr. Dunne continues the journey in The Dark Light of Love as his heart (and thereby our's) is led, amid the dark light, toward God.

Pick up this book. Read it slowly. Personally, this work was a comfort in a difficult time. If you knew Fr. Dunne, it is a journey with an old friend. If you did not have the privilege, you will meet a beloved fellow traveler and guide and be enriched by the journey.

Four Articles and a Poem

As customary, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. Another article refers to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post concludes with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

Today is the Feast of St. James the Great, Apostle. I was privileged to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago twice with my father, in 2010 and 2014. It was just over a year ago that we completed our second pilgrimage. Santiago, Apóstol, ruega por nosotros.

This week, I recommend the following articles:
  1. The best camera is the one you have with you. Mike Moats daily provides insights into the world of macro photography on his blog. While a full-time professional macro photographer and photography educator, Moats, to illustrate the point of this post, ordinarily does not use the newest, shiniest, most expensive gear to make his images. As his post indicates, "the best camera is the one that you have with you." I suspect that we could use this wisdom to great benefit on multiple subjects in out lives.
  2. Is rudeness in the workplace contagious? Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student at the University of Florida, documents research that he and colleagues performed. The findings, published June 29 in the Journal of Applied Psychology, provide the first evidence that everyday impoliteness spreads in the workplace. Sadly, we know that rudeness is found not only in the workplace but also on social media. The band MAGIC!, in their song "Rude," ask us: "Why you gotta be so rude?" While the findings seem rather matter-of-fact, I do hope that we can advance with civility over the growing coarseness in our discourse and treatment of one another. Odds are against us, as the presidential election is 15 months away, but we can always pray.
  3. Does weaker democracy mean weaker technology? Hilary Sutcliffe, director of MATTER, a UK NGO/think tank, observed, "While the erosion of trust in political institutions and processes isn’t often directly associated with technology innovation, the two are inextricably interwoven." Her article examines this relationship with three negative scenarios and a proposed "golden scenario." Frankly, the article is too short. A weakened democracy opens us to all sort of Orwellian nightmares. Our hope, from technology, is that it is deployed by those who disrupt our descent. Unlike Peter Huber and his rock-solid faith in the free market, I believe that technology, deployed by those with ends other than simply profit, like the open-source movement, are more likely to break our fall. Nonetheless, the implications of weaker democracy, measured in decreased political participation (uninformed general public, declining voter participation, etc.) has enormous impact on every other aspect of our lives.
  4. The Everday Ascetic: Considering Food Waste in the US. In a post from Catholic Moral Theology, Professor Jana Bennett of the University of Dayton, addresses how Pope Francis' encyclical letter, Laudato Si', might be applied to everyday life with regard to the rampant waste of food in the U.S. Make sure that you watch the John Oliver clip at the end of her post. (In the post-Jon Stewart/Daily Show world that will soon arrive, I may well be directing more of my viewing to Oliver, who handles issues with depth, wit, and humor.) Also, make the Catholic Moral Theology blog part of your regular reading. It has great content!
And now for this week's poem. Returning to our introduction about the Feast of St. James and the Camino de Santiago, I recall all the changes that this year has wrought in my life. While I remain hopeful and encounter great signs of new life, I am aware also of the loss. T.S. Eliot's poem, "Journey of the Magi," tells a story of how the Magi traveled to Bethlehem and how the journey changed them.

Journey of the Magi
by T. S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed,refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

A Beginnner's Guide to Energy

Mature, public conversation about issues that matter is foundational for democratic society. I am delighted that Mark Zuckerberg's "A Year of Books" offers such an opportunity. To contribute to that dialog, I will offer commentary on each of the readings proposed by Zuckerberg.

It was Bill Gates who initially exposed me to the work of Vaclav Smil. In Gates' recommendations for "Beach Reading (and More)," Microsoft's founder suggested Smil's latest work while also noting his long affection for Smil's writing in his review of the book:
I can’t think of anyone better equipped to present a clear-eyed analysis of this subject than Vaclav Smil. I have written several times before about how much I admire Smil’s work. When he tackles a subject, he doesn’t look at just one piece of it. He examines every angle. Even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I always learn a lot from reading him.
When Mark Zuckerberg made Smil's Energy: A Beginner's Guide the fourteenth selection in his "A Year of Books," Zuckerberg also cited Gates' recommendation as one that influenced him to include the 2006 book in his reading.

Vaclav Smil
Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian scientist, is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. Having published 35 books and more than 400 papers, Professor Smil writes broadly interdisciplinary research in energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.

Not having read much science since high school and college, the first two chapters, which quickly survey theories from chemistry, physics, and biology, as well as the accompanying equations, were a bit slow-going for me. Obviously, this reflects less upon the author than his reader. The broad base built upon those foundational sciences in the first chapters allows Professor Smil to incorporate their insights throughout the remainder of the book. It illustrates something of Bill Gates' remark that Professor Smil "examines every angle."

In fact, the book is not highly technical. Apart from the equations and occasional units of measure derived from the first chapters, the book reads easily. While a scientist, Smil writes in an easy prose. The book is unencumbered by footnotes and endnotes.The book dovetails nicely, as well, with Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a prior Zuckerberg pick. Themes from Harari's work about the development of agriculture and technology are developed by Professor Smil in light of energy and the efficiency of the process.

Many themes, used as illustrations, are given brief reference, and this reader was left to ponder further implications (and tack on additional works to future reading), like his reference to the urban heat island affect (p. 20). I also learned about the advantages in running afforded by our bipedality, over quadrupedal runners, like dogs, who have to time their movements to their respiration (p. 72). Professor Smil also observes misuses of language and concepts in relationship to his theme: misuse of the term "power" (p. 15), a preference for the word "web" over "food chain" (p. 58), and the multiple forms of coal better expressed as "coals" (p. 105). Smil chooses his words carefully as well as gracefully.

The book's central challenge may well be reduced to this:
. . . it is not a shortage of energy, but rather our ability to harness it and convert it into useful energy at an acceptable (both monetarily and environmentally) cost, that will determine the fate of our civilization. (p. 32)
Amid the growing effects of climate change and the declining reserves of fossil fuels, Professor Smil then explains the energy costs involved in various technologies throughout history and reviews some key factors, in place of offering forecasts, regarding energy in the future. Professor Smil identifies issues of exaggerated energy consumption in the U.S., relative other economies, but he sets them forth as a scientist more than an ethicist. All in all, Pope Francis' Laudato Si' may well provide excellent companion reading to the research shared by Professor Smil.

In Energy: A Beginner's Guide, Professor Vaclav Smil provides a thorough and enjoyable introduction to concepts regarding energy, the history of those concepts, and our modern challenges with energy. Likely, this will be my first, but not final encounter, with Professor Smil's writing, given how much i enjoyed reading him.

Four Articles and a Poem

As customary, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. Another article refers to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post concludes with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

This week, the four articles urge an appropriate space for science in our concepts, in our politics, in our faith, and in our gazing. Poetry reminds us, however, of a deeper contemplation of the mysteries that surround us, mysteries that bring us to "perfect silence."
  1. If the Moon were only 1 Pixel. This was another big week in science. In addition to seismic research suggesting an enormous threat to the Pacific Northwest, NASA sent a probe on a nine-year journey, covering 3 billion miles flying by Pluto and its moons. The previous link, developed by Josh Worth, posits in pictorial fashion the size of our solar system. Spend a little time to conceptualize what "space" might really mean.
  2. The New Deal. While I wish that it was considered through a lens of science, the negotiations with Iran and the nuclear deal between that nation and major nations has largely devolved into political theater. Presidential candidates from the right have postured against it. Hours after its conclusion many talking heads offered opinions. Frankly, we should have little regard for comments from politicians who have neither read the document nor have the scientific background to understand the same document. John Lawrence, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, with 38 years of experience on Capital Hill, offers insight on the political process and why the deal is important. Here is an early breakdown of components of the deal.
  3. Can Islam Come Back to the Light of Science? Much of Aristotle's writing comes to us via Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Our number system, dubbed "Arabic numerals," have proven a lot more useful, outside of the Super Bowl, than the Roman numeral system. Islam, between the year 750 and 1258, was the font of science and learning, while Europe stumbled. While Christianity has had and continues to have issues with science, just ask Galileo Galilei, Catholicism professes that faith and reason go hand-in-hand. Pope Francis' Laudato Si' receives astonishing praise from folks with very different perspectives. (Worth noting is Naomi Klein's report in The New Yorker.) Ross Pomeroy tackles the question of Islam and science in the article highlighted here. Richard Ostling then suggests asking Islamic scholars deeper questions about faith and science in his post on the Get Religion website. 
  4. NASA's Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter. This week's photography article links us to images from the New Horions spacecraft from NASA. These are wonderful photos of the dwarf planet and the team's reaction to the images. 
Now, let us bring together these articles with a poem from Walt Whitman, published in Leaves of Grass.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
By Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant, meaningful and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. One article likely will come from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article will come from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article will take up some aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. Another article will be directed to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post will conclude with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.
  1. A Common Date for Easter? There are many things that we take for granted in life, not knowing all that happens behind the scenes. For most folks, to know the date of Easter is simply to look at a calendar without awareness of the details behind establishing this movable feast. In general, it can be said that Christianity, since the Council of Nicaea in 325, celebrates Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. Good so far, right? Well, if you live in Chile or Australia, Easter is celebrated in the fall. Let's add a more interesting wrench that is invisible to many of us in the West: Orthodox Christians routinely celebrate Easter, while calculated by the same formula, on a different day. How can that be? Well, the move from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582 eliminated 10 days in October for those of us in the West. This skipping of 10 days was not observed by Eastern Christianity. Hence, more often than not, the East and the West have different dates for Easter. The article cited explains: "Sometimes they still coincide, as they did in 2010, 2011, and 2014, and will again in 2017, but not after that until 2025. Often the two are just a week apart but can be much farther apart, as they were in 2013 (March 31 and May 5), and will be in 2016 (March 27 and May 1), and 2024 (March 31 and May 5)." Pope Francis has been talking about aligning the date for Easter as a sign of unity with Orthodox Christians. The article mentioned above by Fr. Ronald Robertson, C.S.P. indicates the progress made with the Orthodox to join our calendars. Fr. Robertson explains why it may be difficult for the Orthodox to join their date with our date in the West. Hence, the most realistic way forward may well be to calculate our date based upon the date of the East. If this should occur, and it would be a great sign of unity, there will be all sorts of unintended consequences, like disruptions in the timing of school's spring breaks. It will also prompt a question for the Protestant community if they will join in seeking a unified date for Easter. In any event, this dialog is happening, and, while it may create some discomfort, it would be a significant step toward Christian unity.
  2. Free college is not enough: The unavoidable limits of the Kalamazoo Promise. Professor Tim Ready of Western Michigan University (formerly of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies) wrote a blog for the Brookings Institute that evaluates the Kalamazoo Promise and explores broader issues of social mobility and education. This data is important for communities across the U.S. and beyond. Chile, for example, is amidst the fourth year of student protests demanding free higher education. The article, while short, is packed with links. I learned about the post when Kalamazoo's public radio interviewed Prof. Ready. It is long established that education is the key to social mobility. Prof. Ready concludes that, while a free college education helps social mobility, in and of itself, it is not enough; the help arrives too late in the educational process for many students.
  3. When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job. Esquire Magazine's John H. Richardson introduces us to climate scientists and how they face the challenges of their work and the challenges to it by those who deny climate change. Underneath the empirical demands of science are hopes and fears about our future on this planet. While the article does not raise faith issues, I would love to know something about what these scientists believe.
  4. "Let's Not Be Afraid To Say It – We Need Change, We Want Change": To Poor and Powerful Alike, Pope's Watershed Call for "Justice." Rocco Palmo,the scribe behind Whispers in the Loggia, a favorite blog of many priests and bishops, points to an address by Pope Francis in Bolivia as "a bombshell text that immediately takes its place among the handful of truly landmark addresses of this pontificate." While much of the press coverage of the Papal visit to South America looks at Evo Morales' gift of a sickle and hammer cross and the coca leaves that assisted the Holy Father at high elevation, Palmo directs our attention to this wonderful text. Take some time to prayerfully read it.
And, finally, for our poetry. Today is the feast of St. Benedict. My mind is drawn to the final paragraph of Alisdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, a work of philosophy. So, let us conclude today with poetry in a philosopher's prose.
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict. (After Virtue, pp. 244-5

The Webs We Weave: The Player of Games

Mark Zuckerberg's "A Year of Books" offers an opportunity for considered dialog around a series of readings. To this point, the readings were mostly selected from the social sciences, although the book at hand represents an exception from that trend. For each book, I offer a commentary so as to participate in the dialog prompted by this reading series.

To be honest, I have not read a work of science fiction in a very long time. In fact, the last would have been the last science fiction works would have been in the late 1990s, Mary Doria Russell's great The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God. It has been so long, I had forgotten how enjoyable science fiction can be!

Mark Zuckerberg's latest selection is The Player of Games by the late Iain M. Banks. Banks, a Scottish author of fiction. science fiction, and non-fiction died in June of 2013. The Player of Games, a 1988 work, is the second of nine works in the Culture Series. Wikipedia describes the overall concept of the series in this way:
The Culture series is a science fiction series written by Scottish author Iain M. Banks. The stories center on the Culture, a utopian society of humanoids, aliens, and very advanced artificial intelligences living in semi-anarchist habitats spread across the post-material-scarcity Milky Way galaxy. The main theme of the novels is the dilemmas that an idealistic hyperpower faces in dealing with civilisations that do not share its ideals, and whose behaviour it sometimes finds repulsive. In some of the stories, action takes place mainly in non-Culture environments, and the leading characters are often on the fringes of, or non-members of, the Culture, sometimes acting as agents of Culture plans to civilise the galaxy.
Iain M. Banks
In a nutshell, the description applies to the work of The Player of Games. I'd rather not describe the plot to a potential reader, posting spoiler alerts, so I'll simply say that Banks has imagined an equally thrilling and repulsive world that wrestles with all sorts of ethical dilemmas and plays with concepts of culture and language amid a foreign landscape that bears a certain resemblance to some issues that vex us today. The story is entertaining, but it also raises deeper questions about the story we live.

While I plodded through the early portions, trying to get my bearings, I found the book increasingly difficult to put down as I continued reading. I am grateful to Zuckerberg's nudge that brings me to read this book.

Four Articles and a Poem

Happy Fourth of July!

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant, meaningful and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. One article likely will come from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article will come from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article will take up some aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. Another article will be directed to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post will conclude with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

Amid the flags, parades, cookouts, and fireworks of this weekend, I submit four articles and a poem for your consideration.
  1. Extend Zadroga as long as 9/11 heroes need. While we salute the flag, let's not forget those who made that possible. We have an obligation to care for those who have sacrificed for us. Be sure to read this editorial about an important bill that, in justice, must be passed. This week, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Senator Gillibrand is the Senate sponsor of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (S.928/HR.1786) and her appearance took place on the fourth anniversary of the Act's passage. The law provides heathcare for 9/11 responders, more than 3,600 of whom have been diagnosed with cancers attributes to 9/11. She seeks, rather than a semi-annual renewal of the Act, to make it permanent. Our nation's heroes deserve no less.
  2. Why the world must work together to tackle antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance may seem like a heavy topic for the Fourth of July, but do not miss this important issue. The article was penned by Jim O'Neill, the former Goldman Sachs executive who coined the term "BRIC" for newly emerging advanced economies. Also, I recommend a similar piece, "What will happen when antibiotics stop working," by Julia Calderone, that should awaken yet more concern. Simply put, dramatic steps need to be taken in limiting our use of antibiotics and serious investment in research of alternatives is required.
  3. A return to Catholic Action.Fr. Bruce Niele, C.S.P. invites us to live anew some of the richness of the Catholic tradition.
  4. Many have seen Brandon Stanton's work, often without knowing his name. Brandon, a 31-year-old graduate of the University of Georgia, came to New York to work in business. Soon, he find himself doing street photography and brief interviews. His Humans of New York blog and Facebook page may catapult in viewership today because Facebook removed one of the photos. I just learned this as I was researching a few details for this post. Frankly, I love his brief, poignant interviews with his subjects. I also enjoys his posts tagged "Today in microfashion." With or without today's controversy, Brandon's work is significant, notable, and worth taking some time to see.
For this week's poem, how about a poem from a Puerto Rican New Yorker, or as our poet would say, a Nuyorican. The following poem by Tato Laviera was inspired by two aunts who visited him in New York. Laviera writes:
The poem was inspired by my two aunts, Titi Yuyu and Titi Teita. On July 4th, 1986, they asked me to take them to see the Statue of Liberty. I had forgotten that the Statue was closed for renovations. So I took them to the SI ferry. We saw the decapitated statue. I brought them something to drink. When I returned to the deck, they were kneeling. My two aunts estaban arrodilla kneeling on the deck of the steel ferry. They were praying the rosary for the Statue. The moment, the background of Wall Street, the waters and the decapitated statue provided an incentive for the poet to rise. (source)

lady liberty
By Tato Laviera

for liberty, your day filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor, nineteen eighty-six,
midnight sky, fireworks splashing,
heaven exploding
into radiant bouquets,
wall street a backdrop of centennial adulation,
computerized capital angling cameras
celebrating the international symbol of freedom
stretched across micro-chips,
awacs surveillance,
wall-to-wall people, sailing ships,
gliding armies ferried
in pursuit of happiness, constitution adoration,
packaged television channels for liberty,
immigrant illusions
celebrated in the name of democratic principles,
god bless america, land of the star
spangled banner
that we love,

but the symbol suffered
one hundred years of decay
climbing up to the spined crown,
the fractured torch hand,
the ruptured intestines,
palms blistered and calloused,
feet embroidered in rust,
centennial decay,
the lady's eyes,
cataract filled, exposed
to sun and snow, a salty wind,
discolored verses staining her robe,

she needed re-molding, re-designing,
the decomposed body
now melted down for souvenirs,
lungs and limbs jailed
in scaffolding of ugly cubicles
incarcerating the body
as she prepared to receive
her twentieth-century transplant
paid for by pitching pennies,
hometown chicken barbecues,
marathons on america's main streets.
she heard the speeches:
the president's
the french and american partners,
the nation believed in her, rooted for the queen,
and lady liberty decided to reflect
on lincoln's emancipatory resoluteness
on washington's patriotism,
on jefferson's lucidity,
on william jennings bryan's socialism,
on woodrow wilson's league of nations,
on roosevelt's new deal,
on kennedy's ecumenical postures,
and on martin luther king's non-violence.

lady liberty decided to reflect
on lillian wald's settlements,
on helen keller's sixth sense,
on susan b. anthony's suffrage movement,
on mother cabrini's giving soul,
on harriet tubman's stubborn pursuit of freedom.

just before she was touched,
just before she was dismantled,
lady liberty spoke,
she spoke for the principles,
for the preamble,
for the bill of rights,
and thirty-nine peaceful
presidential transitions,
and, just before she was touched,
lady liberty wanted to convey
her own resolutions,
her own bi-centennial goals,
so that in twenty eighty-six,
she would be smiling and she would be proud.
and then, just before she was touched,
and then, while she was being re-constructed,
and then, while she was being celebrated,
she spoke.

if you touch me, touch ALL of my people
who need attention and societal repair,
give the tired and the poor
the same attention, AMERICA,
touch us ALL with liberty,
touch us ALL with liberty.

hunger abounds, our soil is plentiful,
our technology advanced enough
to feed the world,
to feed humanity's hunger . . .
but let's celebrate not our wealth,
not our sophisticated defense,
not our scientific advancements,
not our intellectual adventures.
let us concentrate on our weaknesses,
on our societal needs,
for we will never be free
if indeed freedom is subjugated
to trampling upon people's needs.

this is a warning,
my beloved america.

so touch me,
and in touching me
touch all our people.
do not single me out,
touch all our people,
touch all our people,
all our people
     our people

and then i shall truly enjoy
my day, filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor,
nineteen eighty-six, midnight sky,
fireworks splashing,
heaven exploding
into radiant bouquets,
celebrating in the name of equality,
in the pursuit of happiness,
god bless america,
land of star
spangled banner
that we love.